Eating Your Words

The fascinating origins of everyday culinary words and phrases

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Food glorious food!

Everything but the kitchen sink

Keep the pot boiling

Out of the frying pan

Salad days  

In the soup!

Cook one’s goose  

Give us a butchers!   

What a sauce!

A sandwich short of a picnic

Feeling groggy           

Just my cup of tea

Look to your laurels   

The spice of life      

In a nutshell   


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The meaning and origin of words and phrases related to mincemeat

Mince refers to minced meat, especially beef, and also the act of mincing, i.e. shredding meat into very small pieces. As a verb mince dates back to the 14c coming from the Old French mincier ‘cut into small pieces’ from the Vulgar Latin *minūtiāre ‘make small’ which is from the Late Latin minūtiae ‘small bits’. Ultimately it is from the Latin minūtus small which is also the origin of the adjective minute ‘very small’ and the noun minute (as in 60 seconds). As a noun describing what had previously been known as minced meat the word only dates back to the 19th century.

To not mince one's words means to talk candidly, without attempting to soften the impact of one's opinions or remarks for the sake of politeness or decorum. The phrase is most often used in the context of criticising something or someone. This is a negative development of an earlier phrase “to mince the matter” meaning to play down the importance of something. That phrase was a reference to tougher cuts of meat being minced to make them easier to digest. In Shakespeare’s Henry V King Henry explains to the French princess that he is courting: ‘I know no ways to mince it in love, but directly to say, I love you’ Therefore someone who doesn't mince their words makes no effort to lessen the impact of what they have to say.

The refined manner involved in mincing one’s words is related to the use of the word mincing to mean to walk with affected delicateness.

Mincemeat is generally a mixture of dried vine fruits (currants, raisins and sultanas), candied peel, apple, sugar, shredded suet and spices. The mixture is soaked in alcohol (e.g. brandy). Mincemeat is almost exclusively used to make the traditional Christmas treat, mince pies which - with or without meat - have been a part of Christmas since the 16th century.

The word mincemeat is simply a contraction of the earlier term 'minced meat' and, as this would suggest, mincemeat used to contain - yes, you've guessed it - meat that had been minced. Mrs Beeton included a recipe for mincemeat among her pudding recipes in her Book of Household Management that called for 1½ lb lean beef. The continued inclusion of shredded suet as an ingredient in modern-day recipes is a reminder of its meaty origin. However, these days mincemeat and minced meat or 'mince' as it is more simply known are two very distinct things and should never be confused with one another.

The phrase to make mincemeat of someone, dates from late in the 17th century and means to defeat utterly or easily in an argument or contest.

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What a sauce!